Judith Watson shares her allotment learnings in this week’s column.

I have had an allotment for nearly 20 years and yet I find there is still plenty to learn about producing food and Mother Nature.

There are new varieties of fruit and vegetables being produced every year, some thrive very well, others aren’t so successful here in the North. There are also new and old ways of growing to try – raised beds, hydro-culture, training fruit trees to grow as cordons and grafting.

I used to grow Worcester berries (a cross between gooseberry and blackcurrant). They have beautiful tasting small fruits but the branches have long, sharp thorns which tear fingers while the fruit is picked. When Jostaberries came along (a similar cross) I was a convert – fruits the size of big gooseberries, dark red when ripe and sweet, and they grow in abundance on thornless branches. I can’t resist eating them when harvesting. They are also easily propagated by layering.

 

By using different varieties of strawberries it is possible to extend the season for several weeks. To have strawberries before Wimbledon you can overwinter a few plants in a greenhouse and they will produce fruit earlier.

When planning an allotment only choose the fruits and vegetables you know you like.

I was once asked what I grew on the allotment. As the list is rather long it was easier to reply ‘everything except Brussel Sprouts and celery’. I was questioned ‘why’ and my reply was that we didn’t like them.

There are always instructions on the packets of seeds, but be careful – unless you can manage 100s of the same vegetable at the same time you should sow and plant out a small quantity at intervals of approximately three weeks. This will give you a steady supply over a longer time.

Summer is the time when most harvesting is done, raspberries fresh off the cane with the heat of the sun still on them is an irresistible delicious treat.  These are also fresh salad days.

However, as the rent for an allotment is for a year, I believe it should be productive for all that time. 

Winter vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, chard, kale, spinach, leeks, parsnips, beetroot. I am still harvesting leeks and chard from last season while picking this year’s rhubarb. I also have produce in the freezer and preserves in the pantry.

An allotment also needs brave cooks to try new recipes. Beetroot and chocolate cake is lovely and any vegetable can make a hearty soup or a good curry.

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